Madrid extend Barca’s frustration

As referee Miguel Angel Perez Lasa blew the final whistle, Victor Valdes rushed over to give him a mouth full and a bit more. It was an ugly scene and for a game that’s scheduling catered for international markets, not the best image of Spanish football to present to the world. Lasa duly brandished two yellow cards in quick succession to the Barca custodian who needed a party of teammates and staff to keep him from doing something he really would regret.

The fury of Valdes was triggered by Lasa’s decision not to award a late penalty to Barcelona in the closing stages of the game against Real Madrid. Replay images were not conclusive – it was one of those that on some days would be given and on others would not be and unfortunately for the Catalans, this one of the latter days.

Barca sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta lambasted the referee following the game, claiming ‘it was a clear penalty’ while defender Gerard Pique is expecting some kind of apology from Lasa. More likely, however, is an apology from Valdes who will need to explain himself for his actions to avoid a ban of up to 12 games.

Pointing the finger at the referee will do Barca no favours. Against a Madrid side without Cristiano Ronaldo, Mezut Ozil, Sami Khedira and Xabi Alonso – all rested ahead of their trip to Manchester – not even a full strength Barcelona could prevent a second loss in as many days to their fiercest rivals.

Still, it was not all bad news for the Catalans. It went largely unnoticed amidst the late drama, but, Lionel Messi equalled Alfredo Di Stefano’s record of goals in the Clasicos with his strike in the first half. His goal also saw him extend his scoring streak to 16 consecutive games while it was his goal number 50 for the season thus far.

Barcelona may still be well on their way to La Liga success with a comfortable 11-point buffer over second-placed Atletico Madrid yet that did not stop AS from declaring, ‘Real Madrid reign again’ – the irony. Marca, on the other hand, were surprisingly a little more succinct with their headline, ‘White Ecstasy’.  Over in Catalonia meanwhile, El Mundo toed the same line as Zubi and Pique as their front page simply and predictably read, ‘Penalty’.

With Barca’s slip up at the Santiago Bernabeu, Atletico Madrid had a great chance to cut the gap to nine points if they could manage a win in Malaga. But, in what was not the most entertaining of games, the two sides cancelled each other out at La Rosaleda with no goals between them.

Nipping at the heels of Los Boquerones, Valencia failed get closer to that all-important fourth and final Champions League spot with a 2-2 stalemate. Though, Roberto Soldado’s thunderous goal was certainly worthy of winning any game.

Two other teams also fighting for European football produced a highly entertaining goal-feast to round out the weekend’s matches. Real Betis seemed to be running away with it at 2-0 on 50 minutes. But, in the space of 11 minutes, they conceded three times. Dorlan Porban quickly restored parity minutes later and that was how it stayed.

Down in the depths, Mallorca Coach Gregorio Manzano says he now believes his side can avoid relegation after their 2-1 triumph over Granada. While there is some hope still for the Balearic Islanders, there still is nothing such for cellar-dwellers Deportivo. The Galicians are four points adrift in last place and following the 0-0 draw with Rayo Vallecano it is now eight games that they have not recorded a single victory. Still, at least it brought to an end their six-game losing streak.

Another side on a barren run of late is Real Zaragoza. Beaten 2-0 by Getafe, Zaragoza have not won in their past nine games and could well sink into the relegation zone if on Monday night Celta Vigo pull a surprise over Sevilla.

Athletic Bilbao gave themselves some relief from their own relegation fears with a 1-0 win at Osasuna. If not to state the obvious in a season that could hardly get worse, Marcelo Bielsa labelled his side’s victory as ‘crucial’, as one presumes they will all be from now until the end of the season of the Argentine has any designs on keeping his job.